On the occasion of his 130th Birth Anniversary, it is appropriate to make mention of the signal contribution made by Dr T. B. Jayah to the independence struggle of Ceylon.
Amongst other things, as a State Councillor, in November 1944 he spoke for 3 hours on the Soulbury Report and the White Paper of the United Kingdom Government to pave the way for full independence. It was on this historic occasion that the then Leader of the House in the State Council, S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike paid him a high tribute when he said:
“Credit for the attainment of independence should undoubtedly go to Mr T. B. Jayah for his historic speech in passing the Dominion Bill”.
In his much-acclaimed speech, Dr Jayah quite unequivocally pledged the whole-hearted support of the Muslim community for the granting of full independence to Ceylon. He stated that he had full confidence in the Sinhalese community and its leaders that they would do justice to the minorities and treat them fairly after the grant of independence. This stand taken by Dr Jayah must be viewed in the backdrop of the political situation that existed at that time.
The British were dilly-dallying with the granting of independence based on the lame excuse that the aftermath would lead to a bloodbath because certain sections of the population were demanding for safeguards.
Dr Jayah allayed all those fears and stated that whatever differences that existed among the communities could be resolved amicably after the grant of independence. This left the British Raj with no option but to accede to the demand for full independence to Ceylon.
When Ceylon gained independence in 1948, he contested the first Parliamentary Election from the multi-member Colombo Central seat and was elected the second member. He was appointed a Cabinet Minister of the D. S. Senanayake Government, the first Muslim to hold that much-coveted position.
Whilst still serving in this post, he did not hesitate when the Prime Minister asked him to take over the post of Ceylon’s first High Commissioner to Pakistan, which was much lower in rank. He served in this post for nine long years and graciously turned down an offer of Pakistani citizenship.
The government and people of Pakistan appreciated his efforts so much that the University of Punjab conferred on him the title of Doctor of Philosophy (Honoris Causa) on 22nd December 1951.
The strong bonds of friendship with Pakistan which Dr Jayah forged at these initial stages have stood us in good stead, throughout the last six decades so much so, that today. Pakistan stands out as a very friendly neighbour with which Sri Lanka has been having very good ties, economically, culturally and educationally.
The support given by Pakistan in the Eelam war bears very good testimony to these very warm and cordial relations.
Born in Galagedera on 01st January 1890, Dr Jayah has proved himself to be a true patriot and a personality worthy of emulation. After serving as an excellent teacher at Dharmaraja College Kandy, Prince of Wales College Moratuwa and Ananda College Colombo, he took over as Principal of Zahira College Colombo on 01st September 1921. In his twenty-seven years of stewardship at Zahira until 1st August 1948, he successfully produced the leaders and reformers, thinkers and philosophers, and Legislators and national figures, who brought forth an enlightened Muslim community, which in course of time was able to contribute to the political, social, economic and cultural development at the national level.
Zahira evolved as a symbol of unity and social integration. Three of his students at Ananda, who in later life emerged as pioneer Leftist leaders, namely Dr.N.M.Perera, Philip Gunewardena and Robert Gunewardena always referred to Jayah with the utmost respect as their mentor and guide during their student days. In the same manner, Zahira had teachers, students and employees from all the communities. His Vice-Principals were George Weeramantry, who came from Ananda and Mr.Wijeratne; when he opened the Commerce Stream, the person he chose to head the Section was J.A.Charles; some of the prominent teachers were Rauff Pasha from India, Moulavi Haniff Nadvi, Pandit Nallathamby who translated the Ceylon National Anthem into Tamil, Navaliyoor S. Nadarajan, a famous poet, N.P.Pillai. Mrs.Pillai, Ms.E.Dissanayake and a host of others. The visionary qualities of Dr Jayah became apparent at an early stage when he gave a lot of prominence to the teaching of English. He was convinced that Ceylonese could take their rightful place in the world stage only with a very outstanding knowledge of English and left no stone unturned in his effort to impart impeccable English to all his students whilst not neglecting the National Languages.
He not only made Zahira blossom into one of the leading schools in Ceylon but extended its wings to other parts of the country by opening Zahiras in Gampola, Matale, Puttalam Alutgama and Wekanda. His hand-picked successor Dr A. M. A. Azeez took Zahira to its zenith, and another disciple Badiudin Mahmud whom he appointed as the Principal of Gampola Zahira, rendered yeoman service as a longest-serving Minister of Education. Prime Minister D.S. Senanayake once referred to the prominent part played by Denominational schools specifically mentioning the role of Rev. Stone of S. Thomas, Hartley of Royal, Highfield of Wesley and Jayah of Zahira.
He further stated that “Ceylon’s securing of Dominion Status without civil strife or political turmoil was not a little due to the priceless lessons which young and old learnt at the feet of those successful school-masters and bridge builders.”
His recall by Allah itself was so significant that he breathed his last in Medina on 31st May 1960 after accomplishing the mission of setting up a Pilgrims’ Rest for Sri Lankans performing Haj. His mortal remains were laid to rest in Jannathul Baqi where so many of the great companions of Holy Prophet Muhammed have been buried.
The writer is a Former Principal of Zahira College, Colombo 10